Review: Rodells, Watford

Feast

Feast

They say the best things in life are worth some effort. If you want some excellent food, popping to the food court at the shopping centre ain’t going to make your taste buds’ dreams come true. So when I say that you all better bloody travel to Watford, you better bloody travel to Watford. In fact, I’m probably going to be shouting about this for the rest of the year. Zone 3 just became so much trendier. Watford is the place to go. Watford is the new East London. (Just with fewer moustaches and fixies.)

All of this enthusing is due to one place: Rodells.

Rodells... usually found without monkey-girl on lamp post

Rodells… usually found without monkey-girl on lamp post

Rodells

Rodells

Rodells is more than a restaurant; it’s an institution. It’s a food haven, a theatre, a family home, an evening hang-out and a democracy.

Rodells is the kind of place where you can spend five hours enjoying a meal. Which is exactly what we did.

Admittedly, I was a little sceptical when I received an email inviting me to Watford, but as I read on, my interest was piqued. Most restaurants have a speciality, even if it’s broad and regional in scope. ‘Modern European’ or ‘Pan-Asian’ might sound familiar. My most eclectic experience was probably when I visited a restaurant in Brasov that specialised in Mexican, but also served Hungarian and Romanian (and incidentally was fantastic).

Rodells takes eclecticism to a new level. The theme: world tapas. The reason: one man called Mario Tavares.

Cooking is like taking a photograph, Mario tells us. There is that one second where everything aligns and you have a beautiful shot, and a second later, the moment’s gone.

We’re sitting in a cosy upstairs room with Monty Python projected on the back wall. Rodells is a rather characterful property on the corner of some crossroads. Downstairs is a bar and some wooden counter seating, and larger restaurant tables are dotted around the two upstairs rooms.

Silent entertainment

Silent entertainment

Spending his early years in Macau, Mario moved to London just before his teens. However, the capital couldn’t contain him: he travelled the world as musician and film producer, playing for Motorhead, Paul Young and Keith Allen when he was a stand-up. During his adventures, he did what any self-respecting foodie would do and ate his way through a variety of cuisines. Yet Mario took his love of food one step further: he tracked down recipes.

‘I do a Thai green curry that’s not a Thai green curry,’ he tells us, perched at our table. ‘I learned the recipe in Kerala.’ It’s the kind of story that makes you blink twice. Whilst on the beach, he had been approached by a guy who sold three items: coconut oil, green curry and sunglasses. Brave or reckless – take your pick – Mario tried the curry and was blown away to the point where he pestered the man for the recipe.

Mario is clearly as creative as his background and the surrounds suggest. Food for him is ‘performance’; it’s an art form. Before he creates anything, he visualises it clearly in his mind. The theatrics extend to visitors’ dining experiences. Originally, each table had a blackboard built into them, each with a different menu. People had to strategically choose their menu depending on what they wanted to eat. For a past Valentine’s Day event, Mario hired an actress to sit drinking wine alone at a table. Whenever anyone went to the toilet, she would follow them and have an angry conversation on her phone at her good-for-nothing boyfriend who’d stood her up. This idea is so cheeky and hilarious that I grin every time I think of it.

As for the menu, we weren’t quite prepared for the scope of it: Korean, English, Portuguese, Louisianan, Caribbean, Cuban, Mexican, Thai, Malaysian, Indian, Spanish, Lebanese, Cantonese… the list goes on.

Arriving at Rodells, we had been greeted by a tall, good-looking young man, who thankfully insisted on talking us through the list of world cuisines.

‘I’m very into food,’ he said.

‘I’ve come to the right place,’ I thought.

Is our waiter a red hot model? Why yes. Am I posing shamelessly with him? Why yes?

Is our waiter a red hot model? Why yes. Am I posing shamelessly with him? Why yes.

Choosing what to order was agony. Today’s menu contained no less than 28 tapas dishes and three larger dishes. As an obsessive foodie, I got out my biro and began marking ‘definites’ and ‘potentials’, whilst grilling our waiter, Louis, on his preferences. The menu changes daily; Mario’s repertoire consists of 130 dishes that he has collected over the years. He has two assistant chefs, Louis informed us, but they can only cook four dishes to the right standard. We all try them and vote whether they’re good enough, he explained. What a lovely gastronomic democracy.

Pretty pretty food

Pretty pretty food

Flat iron steak

Flat iron steak

In the end, we ordered one of the ‘mains’ that Louis raved about – flat iron steak (£14.50). This was served beautifully rare with a delicate pepper cream sauce and some of the best frites that we’ve had in a while – frites that actually tastes of potatoes rather than crispy air. The steak was clearly fantastic quality but had been a little over-enthusiastically peppered, which detracted from the flavour of the beef itself. Fortunately, the cream sauce did much to alleviate any mouth-burning and was also delicious in its own right.

Mac 'n cheese sushi style

Mac ‘n cheese sushi style

Next up, we had ‘mac n cheese sushi style’ (£8). Before you wrinkle your nose with revulsion, let me state now that no raw fish was mixed with cheese or pasta! The macaroni cheese is cooked, then rolled in breadcrumbs into a cylindrical shape and sliced like sushi. Each delicate ‘sushi’ piece is then topped with a blob of sweet mustard sauce. Not being the biggest macaroni cheese fan in the world and highly wary of ordering pasta out in this country, we only chose this based on rave reviews from previous bloggers and being assured it was a ‘favourite’.

One mouthful and its popularity suddenly made sense. It was not the rubbery, chewy lump I had expected but was soft with perfect consistency. The cheese, in our opinion, was a little too strong for the dish, but we fully enjoyed the concept: it’s rare that a single dish becomes an experience in itself.

Nonya chicken curry

Nonya chicken curry

Next up, we tucked into another customer favourite – ‘nonya chicken curry’ (£6), described as the ‘sexiest curry in the world’. Nonya – or nyonya – is a Malaysian curry that’s prepared by women for women. Women feeding women? How could that not be sexy?! Seriously, and with all mildly crass jokes aside, this curry had a very sexy flavour. It was mild but rich, with faint hints of lemongrass. The chicken was a little dry, but the sauce was so amazing that I would happily eat this every day. I would drink it for breakfast.

Jambalaya with some mac n cheese sushi style to the left

Jambalaya with some mac n cheese sushi style to the left

Along came a jambalaya with prawns and chorizo (£6). The rice was cooked to perfection and pepped well with fresh oregano. Sadly, the chorizo was bland and so there was little smoky, garlicky, paprika flavour to permeate the rice. This was the only disappointment for me.

Portuguese stifado

Portuguese stifado

For the savoury dishes, we finished off with a Portuguese stifado (£6), which Mario sometimes also calls Greek stifado as the dish is also found there. This is a beef stew that’s wonderfully flavoured with cassia bark – like a warmer, less sweet and earthier variation of cinnamon. It’s a dish that is truly comforting and is popular across the ages.

The dessert menu was profoundly traumatic. There was far too many delicious things begging to be sampled. In the end, we ordered three desserts – purely for quality control purposes. Obviously. Ahem.

Marry me.

Marry me.

The brownies (£4.50) were pleasant yet unremarkable, but the lemon and ginger cheesecake (£4.50) was marriage material. The base was crisp and thin and the flavours were so expertly balanced that the lemon and ginger pulled off a perfect duet in my mouth, scoring a 10.

The best carrot cake in the world

The best carrot cake in the world

Concluding the munchathon, we delved into possibly one the tastiest carrot cakes in the world (£4.50). It was again harmonious with warm spice cut by beautiful sweet icing. This is the kind of cake that would audition other cakes to get into cake heaven.

If food is performance, then Mario has mastered his ingredients well – they sing and dance to the taste buds. Occasionally, they might miss the odd beat but the show remains a stunning success.

Rodells 4.5/5 – Brilliant tapas-style dishes from around the world in a homey setting. Bring your friends and dig in!

Food 4/5
Value 4/5
Service 5/5
Atmosphere 5/5

Web: www.itsrodells.com / @itsrodells
Where:
1a St Johns Road, Watford WD17 1PU
When:
Lunch 11 – 3pm; Dinner 5 – 11pm; Breakfast – delivery to some local post codes.

Review: Just Falafel, Covent Garden

The original

Is that a purple turnip pickle I spy?

Aaaaaages ago, I popped down to Covent Garden for the opening of Just Falafel. I’m a big fan of falafel if they’re well-made and I liked the concept of a vegetarian fast food chain. Falafel are already staple fast food across Sweden – being the quick /drunken snack of choice among vegetarians (of which there are copious amounts or so my vegetarian Swedish ex-boyfriend assures me). I personally find it quite interesting that a chickpea ball from the Middle East has spread so widely, but I’m certainly not complaining.

Just Falafel serve up a variety of falafel wraps with a variety of sides such as salad, chips or hummus. As you might have guessed, this is no pure export project – given that it originates from Abu Dhabi – but contains a bizarre mix  of themed falafel wraps, ranging from Greek (with tzatziki) to Japanese (ginger, Japanese mayo). I went for the ‘Original’ which contains mint, turnip pickles and tahina dressing.

Although it’s a take-out place, there are a couple of narrow counter-style seats by the window where you can settle down and tackle your food with a modicum more decorum than shovelling it in whilst walking.

I have to say that the falafel exceeded my expectations – much less dry and far more flavoursome than I had anticipated – and I really enjoyed the turnip pickles despite myself. In fact, at £3.49 for a sandwich and £4.99 for a meal, I would possibly indulge again – beats a Pret sandwich by miles. (Let’s judge by London prices and not cry over how little falafel cost in the Middle East.)

However, the unexpected satisfaction from my quick visit was marred by the hummus/houmous. I have never tasted anything so ridiculously salty other than seawater itself. Avoid.

If you really fancy some hummus/houmous – and I mean, really awesome hummus/houmous – I’ll let you in on a sneaky secret and one of my cheap ‘al desko’ lunches. Go to Tesco and buy the sweet red pepper or caramelised onion houmous. You can get two for £1.80 so try both. They are *insanely* good. Then buy a mini-granary baguette for £0.45. Divide in half and eat with half a pot. That’s a really tasty, if bread-heavy, lunch for 67.5p! Of course, supplement with fruit/salad 😉

Fast food falafel!

Fast food falafel!

Review: Pasha, Islington

Sorry for my absence! I have been writing a dissertation. This has meant just as much eating as normal, but it also meant that any writing was limited to academic rather than foodie topics. However, I am now FREE!

Anywaaay…. just a short welcome back post for now.

Life throws up a lot of little ironies along the way. The night before I flew to Istanbul, I was invited for a Turkish meal at Pasha in Islington for a friend’s birthday.

We ordered the Pasha dinner set for £12.95, which entails a range of hot and cold mezze with pitta bread and some meat and falafel as a main.

Mezze

The mezze were pleasant – the hummus, babaganoushe, and cacik – although it’s pretty hard to get these completely wrong. However, the meats were incredibly underwhelming and not of the best quality. And I guess it wasn’t that surprising at that price. In this country. *sigh* (Istanbul posts coming later!)

Meh

What I will recommend, though, is the pistachio and cinnamon ice-cream. SO DELICIOUS. 

It may look simple but it was simply great!

It may look simple but it was simply great!

Pasha – Eat the mezze, then jump straight to dessert! 😉

Website: http://www.pashaislington.co.uk/
Where: 
301 Upper Street, London, N1 2TU

Review: Yalla Yalla, Soho

Peeking at the menus

Peeking at the menus

Street food – it’s all the rage. Which is an invitation for all kinds of foreign dishes to hit London as, let’s face it, Britain doesn’t have a street food culture. One might invoke our national obsession with the weather as an explanation for this. One might also invoke the weather as the reason to why a lot of this foreign “street food” is being sold in cafés rather than on the streets.

Yalla Yalla (1 Green’s Court, Soho) is a tiny little café that serves up Beirut “street” food where squeezing around the wooden tables is an achievement in itself. One wall is lined with cushion-filled bench and small stools provide seating for the people opposite. Be prepared to be cosy.

They serve a whole range of tasty Lebanese dishes, including casseroles, grills and meat skewers, along with mezze and wraps. We sampled the following:

Halloum Meshoue

Halloum Meshoue

Halloum Meshoue – grilled halloumi cheese with tomatoes, black olives, fresh mint and olive oil. The mint provided a refreshing contrast to the saltiness of the halloumi. And it’s hard to go wrong  with halloumi. Mmm.

Makale Samak

Makale Samak

Makale Samak – deep fried calamari, white bait and tiger prawns with spring onions, crispy aubergine and chilli minted greek yoghurt. The batter was fairly light, crisp and well-seasoned. Overall, it was pleasant but not outstanding.

AND NOW….the WRAPS! (Can you tell that I enjoyed them?)

Lamb Shawarma

Lamb Shawarma

I took the Lamb Shawarma (£4.50) – slices of marinated lamb, sumac onion, pickled turnips, tomato and tahini sauce. It was so succulent and flavourful. And at a bargain £4.50, I thought life couldn’t get any better.

Then I attacked my sister’s Chicken Shawarma (£4.50) and realised that… yes, life could get better. The wrap was full of a fantastic garlic sauce that basically meant I had to eat half her wrap. I’ve been wistfully thinking about this chicken shawarma ever since. Highly recommended.

Yalla Yalla 4/5 – Cute and cosy café with reasonably-priced and very tasty food. It’s a winner. 

Website: http://www.yalla-yalla.co.uk/
Where:
12 Winsley Street, W1W 8HQ; 1 Green’s Court, W1F 0HA; Pop-up branch, 186 Shoreditch High Street, E1 6HU
When: Various, see website here.

Review: BRGR.CO, Soho

Hey there, burger ;)

Hey there, burger 😉

After Haché Burgers and The Diner, this blog post completes a hat-trick of burger reviews!

BRGR.CO is the London off-shoot of the Beirut-based restaurant. Judging by the amount of new burger places opening in London, the burger food trend has plenty of mileage in it yet and the wider world is not oblivious to this (US-chain Shake Shack opens in Covent Garden on July 5th). BRGR.CO themselves are expanding further into London, with a branch planned to open in Chelsea.

My trip to BRGR.CO came about due to fortunate circumstances otherwise known as Twitter competitions. I’m a Twitter novice but keeping an eye on the food tweet scene can be very beneficial. In this case, I won a late-night meal at BRGR.CO, Soho, which made me very happy indeed.

The deal is a bargain in itself: a 6oz burger, fries and a beer for £10 between 10pm and 1am.

Not being a beer drinker, I took a trusty friend who happily consumed it on my behalf, whilst I tucked into an Oreo Milkshake (£4.50), which was thick and creamy, but couldn’t quite get me over the Haché milkshake (although I suspect my current peanut fetish is biasing my opinion here).

Oreo milkshake

Oreo milkshake

Now for the burger itself. The patty is of the thinner variety and was, in short, really quite good. I was surprised by the pure beefyness of the flavour and it was also more succulent that many burgers I’ve sampled lately. The bun was a good consistency and the salad was served on the side, which allows any fusspots to sort out what they want to add.

6oz burger & fries

6oz burger & fries

Proud of their beef

Proud of their beef

The only disappointment were the fries, which were just like crispy air. Such a shame. But the burger kept me happy. And my dining partner said it was the best burger he’d eaten in a long time!

For those who don’t want burgers, there are also hot dogs on the menu, and for the veggies, two rather delicious sounding options that sound as if more thought has gone into them than the usual veggie options:

The Mediterranean Veggie Sandwich (£4.95) – Slices of grilled aubergine, courgette and mushroom, topped with fresh iceberg lettuce, rocket leaves, tomato and radish with melted Gruyère cheese.

The Falafel BRGR (£4.95) – Fava bean and spices with homemade herb tahini sauce, tomato, parsley and radish.

Interestingly, they also offer an ‘Afternoon Tea’ menu for £17, which includes mini-burgers, mini-cakes, milkshakes, and, of course, tea!

I’ve got my eye on their 8oz steak burger so I have a feeling BRGR.CO Soho and I will meet again. But hopefully not this scary giraffe-cow head on the wall. 

Demonic giraffe

Demonic giraffe-cow

BRGR.CO Soho 3.5/5

Food 3/5 – Burger is great but let down by fries.
Value 4/5 – Late night deal is a bargain, otherwise prices are to be expected in central London.
Service – 3/5 – Prompt.
Atmosphere 2.5/5 – A little cramped and loud for my liking. It’s not a place where you can relax.

Website: http://www.brgrco.co.uk/
Where: 187 Wardour Street, W1F 8ZB
When: Mon – Wed 12 – 11pm, Thurs – Fri 12pm – 12am, Sat 12pm – 1am, Sunday 12 – 10.30pm

Review: French & Grace, Brixton Village


French & Grace
There is a lot to be said for marketing and the cunning choice of words. Because anything with the word “über” in it made my ears prick up. It just sounds so much fun. Eating something über has to make you super-duper. Or that might just be me.

The über-food I am referring to is the über-wrap served up by French & Grace, a tiny café in Brixton village, founded by food bloggers Rosie French and Ellie Grace. And no, despite the über in the title, they’re not serving up giant bratwurst in wraps. There’s German food in sight – expect modern Middle Eastern and Mediterranean fair and a whole lot of taste.

I actually first heard of French & Grace when I spied them at Feast, but sadly didn’t have room left in my stomach. However, I soon ventured to Brixton and squeezed onto a cushioned bench at one of the three tables in the café. I confess that I was so preoccupied with the über-wrap that I didn’t pay too much attention to the rest of the menu but you can see a sample here. It’s crammed full of tantalisingly delicious-sounding mezzes.

The über-wrap!!!

The über-wrap!!!

As for the über-wrap (£6.60), it involves a warm Lebanese flatbread filled with lamb merguez (a fantastic mildly spicy sausage), halloumi, butterbean and rosemary hummus, harissa yoghurt, and carrot and red cabbage slaw. I was worried that too many flavours would be competing with one another and that some would over-power the others. Not a bit of it – the über-wrap is a smooth taste-sensation.

For dessert, I ordered affogato (£4.20), which was a tad disappointing – the ice-cream and coffee were average and the almonds contributed no flavour at all. By contrast, my friend took a ginger sticky toffee pudding, which went down a storm and was very popular, judging by its invasion of other customers’ tables. 

Sticky toffee pudding

Sticky toffee pudding

French & Grace 4/5 – I’m mainly basing this on the über-wrap, but I was impressed by the thoughtfulness that had gone into the flavours and, of course, its successful execution. Delish!

Website: http://saladclub.wordpress.com/
Where: Unit 19, Brixton Village Market, SW9 8PR
When: Mon 12 – 5pm, Tues – Wed 12 – 11pm, Thurs 12 – 11.30pm, Fri – Sat 11am – 11.30pm, Sun 12pm – 10pm.

If Brixton is a little too far south for you, French & Grace are currently fundraising to open a hatch in Camden – and they’re offering rewards for those who give, including free über-wraps. Details here.

Drink

More pomegranate! Syrupy – not my cup of tea….